Monday, November 2, 2009


    Indian exposure to the Europeans was a result of the discovery of a sea route to India. Old trade routes existed since the ancient times. The invasion of Alexander boosted trade contacts outside India.  Opening of new trade routes, through Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Caspian Sea till the Black sea also favoured European entry into India. Another trade route was through Persia and Syria till Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt. The route through the Arabian Sea, Persian Gulf and the Red Sea was the most convenient of all. Through these routes goods from India went to Europe and back. The rise of the Arabs witnessed a block of the trade in the 7th century. Besides this the Turks were gaining grounds over the Arabs. The shortage in the supply of Asian goods caused a rise of price of these commodities in Europe. This forced the European countries to seek new sea routes to India. 

The Portughese

Owing to the favorable position of Portugal with regards to access to sea and its experiences in sea-faring, a new sea route to India, west of Africa was discovered. Encouragement by Prince Henry of Portugal who loved navigation and exploration also further boosted the thrill to seek newer lands. By 1481 Bartholomew Diaz reach the cape of Good Hope in Southern Africa. In 1497 Vasco da Gama another Portuguese navigator sailed along the Atlantic coast of Africa rounded the cape of Good Hope and reached Mozambique in the Indian Ocean.

On April, 1498 he reached the western coast of India at Calicut in the south Indian state of Kerala.
He was received by the Zamorin ruler of Calicut who permitted establishment of trading centres at Calicut, Cochin and Cannanore. Fuelled by the instigation of the Arabs the Zamorins attacked the Portuguese but was defeated. The Portuguese thus became supreme in the west coast. Almeida was the first Portuguese Governor in India. He was determined to make Portugal powerful at sea. From 1509 to 1515 Albequerque became the second governor of the Indian territory held by Portugal. He aimed at occupying places for trade, developing a group of intermixed population who would rightfully claim possession of the Portuguese territory in India.  Building of forts was another effort of his to consolidate the Portuguese position in India. In 1510 he conquered Goa from the sultan of Bijapur. He established a factory at Colombo in Ceylon and fort at Cochin. With his able administration he increased the Portuguese influence in India. In 1534 the Portuguese occupied Bassein and in 1538 Daman too. In the same year the Portuguese started constructing a factory neat Hugli.

After a century the Portuguese power began to decline owing to factors like incompetent successors of Albequerque, defective administration, religions intolerance, resistance from the Mughals, lack of financial support from home, conditions arising of the union of Portugal with Spain under Philip II in 1580. Besides this the inefficient trading methods, discovery of Brazil and above all the emergence of strong European competitions especially the Dutch English also hastened the Portuguese decline.

The Dutch

After the Portuguese, the Dutch rose to power in the South East Asia. Their contact with India was through settlements at Nagapatnam and Cinsura in Bengal. The Dutch East India Company declined under the pressure from the English. The British navy was much superior to the Dutch and finally the English controlled the Dutch possessions in India.


In the sixteenth century the English started trade with the east. The English had to pay high prices for goods bought from the east. Lured by the Portuguese profits the English too wished to have their share of wealth and profits.  Attaining power in this area would result in getting goods at prices they decide. Besides this the defeat of the Spanish Armada had made England the mistress of the seas. In 1500 a group of merchants under the Chairman ship of Lord Mayor formed an association in London to trade with India. In 1600 Queen Elizabeth granted a charter to the governor at a company of merchants to trade freely with the countries of the east. Voyages were made to South East Asia to trade in spices.

Attention towards India was diverted due to the Dutch influence in the Spice islands and getting raw materials for the English. The vast Indian mainland could be a market for the finished goods. The voyage to India was led by Captain Hawkins. He landed at the west coast of Surat and succeeded to get some trade concession for the company from Emperor Jahangir. He also secured permission to set up a factory at Surat. The Portuguese influence in the Mughal Court proved a obstacle to the English trade. In 1612 Captain Best defeated the Portuguese fleet near Surat thus reducing their influence. He secured permission for building of a factory at Surat. In 1615 King James I of England sent Sir Thomas Roe  as his ambassador to the court of Jahangir, and secured permission for the company to set up factories. Thus factories were set up at Ahmedabad, Broach and Agra.

In 1661 the company obtained Bombay from Charles II and converted it to a flourishing centre of trade. By 1687, its was the most well established settlement of the Company on the west coast of India. In 1611 factories were set up on the east coast at Masaulipatam. In 1540 Fancis Day built a fortified factory called Fort St. George beside which the town of Madras flourished. English settlements rose in Orissa and Bengal. In 1633, in the Mahanadi delta of Hariharpur at Balasore in Orissa, factories were set up. In 1650 Gabriel Boughton an employee of the Company obtained a license for trade in Bengal. An English factory was set up in 1651 at Hugli. Various factors besides the lack of a political authority in India encouraged the company to unleash a vigorous policy of trade. The disintegrating Mughal empire had excited the English. At a petty pretext during the rule of Aurangazeb, the British brought a fleet from England and attacked Hugli. Aurangazeb attacked the English settlements and, captured their settlements at Patna, Cassim Bazar, Masaulipatam and Vizagapatanam. The superior English navy avoided the progress of the Mughals and found it wise to conclude peace on the conditions imposed by Aurangazeb. In 1690 Job Charnock established a factory. In 1698 the factory was fortified and called Fort William. The villages of Sutanati, Kalikata and Gobindpore were developed into a single area called Calcutta. In 1717 Emperor Farukhiyar permitted duty free trade. In Gujarat and Madras too they secured concessions. The  company at Bombay minted rupees to be circulated in India.

Owing to the economic factors at England and the discredited submission to the terms  of Aurangazeb, a rival trading company was established called General Society. A compromise between the two companies on common trade saved the East India Company in 1702


At a period when Europe witnessed an upsurge in discoveries and  colonization, the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English were on their mission for contacts with India . France who competed with England in many respects also took to installing trade contacts with India and the east. In 1611 Louis XII granted monopoly to a company to pursue their quest, but did not achieve any progress. In 1664 Louis XIV granted another permission to start trade with India. The trade with India was a matter of prestige as the European politics was dominated by rivalries in the eighteenth century. In India Anglo French conflict started with the Austrian war of succession which ended in the seven years war. Pondicherry was the hub of French settlements. Other French factories and settlements were at Masulipatanam, Karikal, Mahi, Surat and Chandernagore. The struggle for establishing supremacy in trade resulted in wars between the English and the French in the Deccan. The first Carnatic war was fought between 1746-48. The second Carnatic war was fought between 1748-54 and the third Carnatic war was between 1758-63. This was the war that sealed the fateof the French possessions in India. Owing to Commercial superiority and better financial position, private ownership of the English company and support by the British government, the East India Company flourished in India.

Superiority of the English officers, besides this the French continental preoccupations, the superior English navy and the impact of English domination in Bengal, the recall of Duplex and the blunders of Count de Lally contributed to the French failure in India. Thus the struggle for colonial supremacy resulted the English having overcome the European obstacle. Little did then one realize that this was the beginning of a diplomatic policy that would reign supreme in India for the next two centuries.


The British  with their superior naval power support from home were the next who like the numerous invaders and adventurers of the past would establish their dominion in India. The diplomatic moves of East India Company were clever. The favorable conditions created by the disintegration of the Mughal empire invited the English to seek political power in India. The political aspirations of the company bore fruit from Bengal. Owing to the incompetence of Siraj-ud daula the Nawab of Bengal, he had lost the loyalty of his nobles who conspired against him. The misuse of the privileges given to the English and the fortification of the settlement invoked the displeasure of the Nawab who ordered their demolition. The inhuman act of the Nawabs subordinate resulting in the Black hole tragedy resulted in involvement of Robert Clive and Admiral Watson in an attempt to subdue the Nawab. After the capture of Calcutta by Robert Clive he entered into a treaty which proved the only advantageous solution for both at present. The diplomatic designs of Clive bore fruit when he learnt of the discontented nobles of the Nawabs who were ready to go against the authority of the Nawab.

On the 23rd of the June 1757 the armies of the Nawab Siraj-ud-daula and Robert Clive met in a battle at Plassey. The Nawab's nobles who deflected as decided with the English did not support the Nawab, leading to his defeat. This was the major achievement of the English that was to act as the foundation of British rule in India. The English put Mir Jafar as the Nawab with the jurisdiction of government under the Company's control.

The company got the territories around Calcutta. It raised the prestige of the company who now was able to use this to influence the French and their support at home. It also started a political gamble by the company officials who now conspired against Mir Jafar and promised the throne to Mir qasim in return for money. Mir jafar was disposed by the English and  Mir qasim was given the administration of Bengal. Mir qasim knew well the designs of the English. He was an able administrator and sought to improve the finance of the state, while meeting the demands of the company. His quarrels with the company over duties and articles and trade exposed his intention to break off from the yoke of British dominance. This ultimately resulted in the battle of Buxar in 1764. A fierce battle resulted. The superior military power of the English had confirmed the English victory and thus they became the masters of Bengal and now were the sole contenders for the control of the whole country.

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